At first, the Nike+ FuelBand seems not so different from other gadgets on the market that track a person’s movement — including the Fitbit and Jawbone UP. The features are comparable, although the FuelBand doesn’t give you an optimized alarm based on sleep patterns, like the others. In fact, the key differentiator of the FuelBand is not hardware or a feature; it’s the point system created in conjunction with the gadget. It’s called NikeFuel, and at first glance it seems totally arbitrary.
So, why invent a measurement that doesn’t correspond directly to distance traveled, calories burned or another physical metric? Nike’s goal, actually, is not to be a measure of hardcore fitness, but to provide a sense of accomplishment for regular people doing everyday activities. To create this type of motivation, Nike needed to provide users with a metric that would enable comparisons — no matter what height, weight, gender or activity — to past performance, another person (read: competition), or a daily average, which happens to be 2,000 Fuel points.
The band itself is made of a thermoplastic rubber called TPE and polypropelene, a plastic often used in dishwasher-safe food containers. There are 20 LED lights which turn from red to yellow and then green throughout the day — assuming you reach the NikeFuel goal set on your profile. (Nike has software for smartphones and desktop that the FuelBand can be registered with). In addition, another 100 white LED lights reveal time, Fuel points, calories and steps taken — you can cycle through each of these via the FuelBand’s single button.
Inside the band is a triaxial accelerometer. If this sounds foreign, don’t worry — your iPhone has one, too. Basically, it can sense the movement of a device and the tilt at which it is held — this component is also what makes the Wii intuitive and the display on your smartphone or tablet screen react to whether you’re holding it portrait or landscape.
Two lithium-polymer batteries keep the Fuelband going for four days (some have reported longer), and it is charged through the built-in USB, which also happens to be the clasp to close the bracelet around your wrist. Lastly, a Bluetooth chip syncs your Fuel information with your profile on the web and the smartphone app.
Although Fuel is a seemingly arbitrary number, Nike did spend some time developing a way to calculate a metric that could compare users’ achievements and offer a fair judgement to the “fitness worth” of specific activities (although some claim it’s not totally dependable).
A study at Arizona State University monitored participants’ oxygen consumption on several sporting activities in order to correlate certain motions with oxygen demand — this is why NikeFuel is sometimes denoted as “oxygen kinetics.”
“The partnerships with Arizona State and other partners were critical in developing the foundation for NikeFuel. Oxygen kinetics is the most universal way to understand the level of exertion to perform a core movement,” says Ricky Engelberg, Experience Director of Digital Sport at Nike.
The limitation of NikeFuel quite frankly comes back to the product itself and the fact that it’s worn on a wrist — it easily measures walking or climbing stairs, since your arms tend to swing somewhat methodically, but it cannot measure cycling. However, it seems that by simply releasing a second complementary product that attached to one’s leg, eventually Nike could measure this — make it waterproof, and perhaps you can begin to measure swimming, as well. As NikeFuel is integrated into additional products and refined, it could become the most useful metric for motivation in exercise.